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Health Tips for Parents

2007 Issues

How can my child control acne?


Acne is a common skin condition that occurs during the pre-teen and teenage years. Parents can help their children control acne by understanding its causes and treatments.

What is acne? Acne occurs when pores in the skin become clogged with dead skin cells, bacteria and sebum—oil that provides moisture to hair and skin. Clogged pores can result in various types of breakouts:

Whiteheads – the pore clogs up, closes up and bulges from the skin

Blackheads – the pore clogs up, stays open and the surface becomes discolored

Pimples – walls of the pore are broken and sebum, bacteria and skin cells get under the skin

Cysts – clogged pores open up deep in the skin and lead to infections

What causes acne?

Acne often appears at the onset of puberty, when hormonal changes stimulate the skin’s sebaceous glands and overproduce sebum. Children whose parents had acne as teenagers will likely develop acne as well. Many misconceptions about the cause of acne persist.Some misconceptions include:

“Acne is caused by poor hygiene” – Dirt or oils that form on the surface of the skin do not cause acne.

“Acne is caused by diet” – Many parents have cautioned their children to avoid greasy foods, such as french fries and pizza as well as sugary foods, including chocolate. Yet, scientific studies have not found a link between diet and acne.

“Acne is caused by stress” – The ordinary stress of day-to-day living is not an important factor in acne. Treating acne Keeping the skin clean can help prevent unnecessary breakouts. Children should wash their face gently once or twice a day with mild soap to remove dirt and oil. Vigorous washing and scrubbing may irritate the skin and make acne worse.

Children with long hair that falls in their face should keep their hair clean and, if acne persists, should keep their hair off their face. Labels on cosmetics—including make-up, moisturizures or sunscreen—should indicate that the product is oil free, noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic. Over-the-counter products can help control occasional skin breakouts. According to Miguel Gutierrez, MD, a UCLA dermatologist, this may be enough for children with mild cases of acne. Products with the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide help kill bacteria that can lead to acne. Other products made with salicylic acid dry out skin to help heal pimples. Though often effective, it can take weeks or months to see results with these lotions.

Dr. Gutierrez cautions against popping pimples, which he says can make acne worse. Squeezing a pimple pushes bacteria further into the skin, making the area around the acne even more reddened and inflamed. Sometimes, popping a pimple will result in a brown or red scar that could become permanent. When to see a dermatologist Children who have a severe case of acne that does not respond to over-the-counter lotions can get help from a dermatologist, who can prescribe stronger prescriptions including creams that prevent pimples from forming or antibiotics that decrease swelling and kill bacteria that cause pimples.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare website at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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